Rick’s back, and he’s angry.
While I’ve been gone from Nintendo World Report (formerly Planet GameCube) for some time now, I continued blogging on technology and games for my good friend Andru Edwards and his network of sites until last year. I took some time out for myself and made a series of sweeping life changes, but when I ran into Justin Nation on Facebook I figured it was as good a time as any to put the band back together. This might just be a one-time reunion, or maybe I’ll go out on tour. Who knows?
Unlike Nation, I’m not going to bore you all to tears talking about how old I am or how hard we had it back in the day. I’m here to continue my tirades on Nintendo, calling them out on decisions they’ve made and continue to make, and I’ll do it out of love. Or at least, do it out of some deep-seated need to be right all the time. It’s only because I’m almost always right anyways. Speaking of which, I clearly whiffed on my diatribe regarding the selection of “Wii” as a product name. Yes, it was non-sensical, and yes, Nintendo still faced all of the challenges I outlined. And as the title of my editorial suggested, we did indeed get over it and led Nintendo to where it is now, quite literally writing themselves blank checks.
But let’s move on. My last editorial for NWR was about Nintendo whiffing on their PAX ’06 appearance. Since then, Nintendo has changed in some ways, but has also stayed the same. I waited in line for my Wii in November ’06 (along with Andru) just like a lot of Nintendo’s hardcore fans, because it was clear Nintendo was trying to innovate in the gaming space. Two years later, I hardly turn my Wii on any more. It’s currently at my girlfriend’s house, where she and her sister use it to “play” Wii Fit. I figured it was better off over there than gathering dust on the shelf at my place.
Does that make Wii Fit a brilliant move by Nintendo to capture the casual market? Absolutely. Business-wise, Nintendo struck gold with their “blue-ocean strategy”; they’re attracting a whole new market with games like Wii Sports and Wii Fit. Nintendo owns the casual market right now, and they’re perfectly happy selling to people that will turn the Wii on once a day to work out, or once a month when they have a kegger on campus. They make enough money on the console (and controllers, and peripherals, and licensing) that they really don’t care much about the attach rate. And that’s where their fatal flaw lies: Nintendo doesn’t know how to transform this casual market into consumers that will buy more software.
The Wii is priced to be an impulse purchase for the market they’re tapping. Nintendo is quite happily boasting about being responsible for 99% of the industry’s growth, but were they really? If Wii owners bought it for Wii Sports alone, or for Wii Fit, can you really claim to have grown the segment? Until Nintendo can prove that they can convince those people to buy more software, more GAME software, they’ll continue to get the same eye-rolling response they did when they made that statement. A rising tide is supposed to raise ALL the boats, not just the ones owned by Nintendo.
Sadly, Nintendo doesn’t realize that not only could they have it all, but they’re at risk of losing the casual market with the same strategy that got them there in the first place. The same people that lauded the Wii’s ability to get gamers off the couch and active are starting to realize that those games have little depth, and are only fun for such a brief time that their benefits are minimal. Even Wii Fit owners are coming to the conclusion that it’s no replacement for “real” exercise. If the dearth of entertaining software continues out of Nintendo, they’re seriously at risk of losing that same market they’ve fought so hard to attract, through what I call “Wii fatigue.” I suspect that for every Wii they sell, someone stops using theirs. Those Wii’s aren’t getting traded in though, so Nintendo still has an opportunity to capture those hearts again.
Which leads me into my closing statement: I received some very disturbing news recently and turned to gaming as a way to ease the pain. With all the gaming systems I had access to and all the games I could play, I went back and spent time with my old friends Donald and Goofy. I loaded up Kingdom Hearts 2 (via my PS3), and enjoyed every moment with these childhood friends. I passed up playing with Mario, or Link, or any of my former favorites. Square-Enix recently released an updated Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the PS2, which used to be a Game Boy Advance title. Why did Nintendo not pursue having this game on the Wii? The audience for a game like Kingdom Hearts should be right up their alley. Instead, they’re satisfied with having an upcoming DS game while Square-Enix releases similar games on the PSP and mobile phones. This is a gaming franchise perfect for the casual market built by Wii, with recognizable characters from outside the gaming world, and Nintendo let it get past them.
Nintendo is fat, dumb, and happy. They’re in a place right now where they have become complacent in their success with casual gamers (similar to their GameCube-era complacency), and it’s showing in the kinds of product they’re selling. Uninspired and shallow Wii Remote experiences; third-party shovelware that is a slap in the face to those that still remember the Nintendo Seal of Quality; Wii-makes of N64 and GameCube games that hearken back to a time when Nintendo was more innovative; plastic, high-margin accessories that do nothing but inspire even more plastic, high-margin accessories from licensed vendors. Nintendo used to inspire the best kind of copy cats, people who would steal Nintendo’s innovative ideas and release software that raised the level of competition. Now the only competition they inspire is for the space in the box that holds all my plastic crap. Nintendo is slipping into the realm of being merely an expensive toy manufacturer, a purveyor of plastic and digital bits, the equivalent of gaming junk food. Nintendo hasn’t just partnered with McDonalds, Nintendo has become McDonalds - the 800-pound gorilla selling whatever you’ll buy to anyone who will walk in the door, empty calories in a pretty white box.
At least now you have a scale in your living room to weigh yourself afterwards.